As patrons of Sidney’s Salons were leaving the Sidney Lanier Cottage, after the second annual Jordan Massee Lecture on Southern History and Culture last Sunday, one man was frustrated by the wealth of historical data about famous Macon residents, past and present, that those among whom these luminaries have lived know so little about.
The surface has been scratched by local author Rick Hutto, who has written several books on the famous and the infamous who have been worthy of front page headlines over the last century, among them “Accepted Fables,” which he compiled and edited from Jordan Massee’s unfinished memoirs.
Massee died in 2002 in Macon, where he had lived since moving back from New York City in the late 1990s; however, during the last years of his life, he shared anecdotes with Hutto and with other interested biographers, entertaining them with his humor and tattletale storytelling style.
In the half century Massee lived in the cultural Mecca, New York, he met and socialized with movie stars, writers and others artists. His distant cousin, Carson McCullers, considered Massee her best friend and most trusted confidante, referring to him as her “precious cousin,” who was often given credit for being her “literary angel.” It is obvious from the lecture given by Carlos Dews, that there was fierce loyalty and an affectionate bond between Massee and McCullers.
In 2001 Dews founded the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians at Columbus State University in McCullers’ hometown. Dews stayed in that position until 2003 when he became director of the John Cabot University Institute for Creative Writing and Literary Translation in Rome, Italy.
The video footage of interviews with Massee that accompanied Dews’ lecture were straightforward and witty, traits for which Massee was known throughout his life. He is remembered for his accuracy and complete recall of events that happened many years before he lost his health, but not his zeal for being in the company of stimulating artists and writers.
Like the musical heritage for which Macon is being recognized, the residents who contributed to the folklore of the city are gradually coming to light and being brought to life by biographers and through initiatives like the lecture series at the Sidney Lanier Cottage.
Hearing again the heartbeat of a neighborhood
On Monday, March 5, the ribbon-cutting for the restored and renovated Mill Hill Community Arts Center took place, also restoring the heartbeat for a neighborhood that slumbered in obscurity and neglect until about three-and-a-half years ago. After a visit to Bradenton, Florida, suggested by the Knight Foundation, to see the results of utilizing the arts as a partner in blight remediation, Macon Arts Alliance was encouraged by Macon’s mayor, Robert Reichert, to consider introducing a similar project in East Macon on the former site of the Bibb Manufacturing Company.
In partnership with the Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority, led by executive director Alex Morrison, and with additional funding from Macon-Bibb County’s funds for eliminating blight, the project was promoted through meetings with residents of the Fort Hawkins neighborhood, whose opinions mattered and whose acceptance of the plan was necessary for the plan to succeed.
By 2015, the UDA had purchased what was known as the old Bibb Mill auditorium for future use as a community arts center. The Community Foundation of Central Georgia received an anonymous challenge grant for spurring additional support for repurposing the old building. On Monday, many of the principals involved in bringing the project to fruition were on hand, including Beverly Blake, former Knight Foundation program director for Macon, and Karen Lambert, executive director of the Peyton Anderson Foundation, which was recognized by Jan Beeland, executive director of the Macon Arts Alliance, for stepping in to help the project reach its financial goal.
After the ribbon-cutting, Robert Lee Coleman’s band, sponsored by Gallery West, christened the new stage in the community center with Macon’s signature rock ‘n’ roll. Guests noshed on barbecue sliders and cold brew as they toured the light filled main building with its newly polished hardwood floors and sophisticated institutional kitchen, all part of the new design for the space by architect Robert Beeland.
Katherine Walden is a freelance writer and interior designer in Macon. Contact her at 478-742-2224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.